And every time, I’m wrong. On the one hand, since History is one half of my dual B.A. Degree, I find the material interesting and respect the research that went into writing a book like The Devil in the White City. A book such as this one required tremendous time and dedication to write. How could I not respect that level of effort? On the other hand, I was bored to tears. Or to slumber. Either way, I had to muscle my way through it.
Half of this book was the tale of America’s first serial killer, which I thought would be fascinating. But Holmes was no Jack the Ripper and, while interesting, wasn’t as compelling to read about as more brutal, hands-on killers. I know that sounds incredibly morbid, but it’s true. He was a fascinating fellow, but a bland killer. The building of the World’s Fair held in Chicago would have been much more palatable (for me) if it had been shortened to merely the highlights. Burnham was a self-made man who secured his future through that Fair, but he and his compatriots were not captivating enough to demand half of a four-hundred page book, in my opinion. I got incredibly bogged down in the details of the architecture, though the Fair sounded absolutely breathtaking. At the risk of sounding childish, I wish there had been more photographic representation of the Fair and less mind-numbing description.
There were two parts of this book that I really enjoyed, the first being learning about various inventions unveiled at the fair. I was aware of Cracker Jacks and the Ferris Wheel being unveiled at the Fair. But who knew that zippers and Wrigley’s gum and Aunt Jemima’s Ready-Made Pancake mix all got their start at the world’s largest gathering up to that point in history? And bless whoever invented the automatic dishwasher, which was also unveiled at the Fair. I don’t know about you, but that’s an invention that I’m incredibly thankful for.
I also really enjoyed learning about Detective Geyer, the Pinkerton man who finally brought Holmes to justice. Geyer’s dedication to finding the missing Pitezel children, Howard, Nellie, and Alice, led to the uncovering of Holmes’ other dark deeds. The majority of Americans followed the case religiously, and Geyer became America’s Sherlock Holmes. I love anything Sherlock related, so that make my little nerd heart happy.
Did I enjoy this book? Bottom-line: no. It was interesting on an intellectual level. I learned a lot. It gave me fodder for future lulls in conversation. But it wasn’t entertaining, and I read to be entertained. I’m an escapist, after all. Larson should be applauded for his hard work, but his book read like a dissertation to me. Most non-fiction does. And I can never seem to make myself enjoy reading anything factual. Now, if something is based on reality, I can get behind that. On occasion, anyway. But unless there’s magic and swords and a plethora of events that could never actually happen, I just don’t have much interest. That’s not to say that I don’t like truth in my fiction. In my opinion, the best fiction proclaims some truth that often gets lost in the shuffle of real life. Give me dragons with morality. Give me fairytales that jump of the page and whisper veracity in my ear. Give me fantasy that proclaims something. It moves me more than nonfiction any day.